When you think health food, chocolate probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but with its high antioxidant value, it just might help you achieve better health.
Foods with a high antioxidant capacity, like pecans, blueberries, and chocolate, may help prevent cancer and heart diseases. The cocoa bean is rich in different phenolic compounds, the major compounds that contribute to antioxidant capacity.
“One recent study found that hot chocolate is even higher in antioxidants than wine or tea,” said Yaxi Hu, a PhD student in our Food Science program.
Traditional methods for testing antioxidant compounds are time consuming and labour intensive, however, often taking several days to complete. Hu is working with Assistant Professor Xiaonan Lu on developing a faster but still accurate test, one that would only take a few minutes to complete – something that would be of great benefit to the chocolate industry.
“A lot of chocolatiers want to produce chocolate with an antioxidant capacity as high as possible in order to meet consumer needs,” she said. “Testing for antioxidant levels can give them guidance on which beans to select and allows them to optimizing the processing parameters. Currently, antioxidant levels are determined through time-consuming and labor-intensive experiments. This developed method could help them determine the levels for less cost and much faster than traditional tests.”
Using a Fourier-transformed infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy, a tool that collects signals that can identify chemicals, Hu can determine the antioxidant levels in chocolate in less than two minutes. This research, which was accepted for publication in Food Chemistry in January 2016, also has the potential to be of use to consumers. “With advances in technology, you could use a portable spectrometer, such as a laser conjugated to your phone, to scan a sample of food. The sample would be analyzed with a corresponding app in your phone and with the data reported back you know the antioxidants level in that food immediately.”
The project builds on Assistant Professor Xiaonan Lu’s research projects in developing sensors to characterize various components in food products, such as to quantify the total phenolic content and antioxidant capacity in garlic.
“We wanted to see if it was possible to transfer that technique to other food commodities,” added Hu, who worked on the research with Assistant Professor Lu during her MSc in Food Science.
Hu decided to specialize in food science because she wanted to do research that could be applied to daily life. “We depend on foods,” she said. “Having a better understanding about food microbiology, food chemistry, and food safety can change the way we think about our life style.”